No Cabinet resignations, says Carrie Lam following intense speculation on HK chief executive race

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam's five-year term ends on June 30. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has kept mum on whether she will run for a second term, on Friday (March 25) disclosed that she had not received any resignation letter from her Cabinet, in response to feverish media speculation about two key contenders - Chief Secretary John Lee and Financial Secretary Paul Chan - from the pro-establishment camp.

"The truth is that I did not receive any resignation letter from any of the Secretaries. If I receive such a letter, I will have to announce it immediately, I will have to report this to the central government," Mrs Lam said at the daily Covid-19 briefing when she was asked repeatedly to comment on local media reports on possible frontrunners for the top job.

The 64-year-old chief executive, whose five-year term ends on June 30, added that the nomination period for her successor will still start on April 3, a sign that the May 8 election would not be further postponed. 

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, the Electoral Affairs Commission said that as April 15 and 16, the last day of the nomination period, are public holidays, forms must be submitted by April 14. 

On Wednesday, news portal HK01 reported that Mr Lee, 64, who is a new addition to the list of possible candidates circulated since last year, and Mr Chan, 67, are running neck and neck in the eyes of political observers.

The report, which made no reference to the incumbent, said support among the pro-establishment camp was split between the two men.

Mr Chan, who announced during this year's Budget speech that Hong Kongers would receive HK$10,000 (S$1,700) consumption vouchers, was reported to have points for the initiative which helped boost his popularity to a five-year high.

HK01 noted that Mr Lee, on the other hand, had led a delegation to Shenzhen to discuss Hong Kong's anti-epidemic efforts with central government representatives.

Other likely candidates named in the local media include former chief executive Leung Chun Ying, 67, former director-general of the World Health Organisation Margaret Chan, 74, as well as executive council member Regina Ip, 77.

HK01 said Mrs Chan had declined to run again due to her age, while chances for Mr Leung and Mrs Ip are slim.

On Thursday, Headline Daily, a publication of Sing Tao Newspaper Group, said that Mr Chan's performance of late had impressed some who thought he was "brave".

Despite a general lack of support, he has managed to push through a temporary law to deter landlords from terminating contracts of specific tenants if businesses failed to pay their rents on time.

Mrs Lam, who was once considered a frontrunner, has dimmed her chances with her handling of the Covid-19 situation in the city, said Headline Daily which cited sources.

Political observers are reported to be divided on who is the leading candidate from the pro-establishment camp, as well as whether it may turn out to be a one-horse race.

But there is general consensus that Beijing does not want the race to create internal strife within the traditional pro-establishment camp.

In mid-January, gongfu master, film producer and internet celebrity Checkley Sin Kwok Lam, 64, was the first to announce his candidacy in the election.

A month later, former member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Mr Titus Wu Sai Chuen, said that he intended to run. He had previously contested in the poll twice - in 2012 and 2017 - but eventually failed to receive sufficient nominations on both occasions.

Anyone who wants to enter the race must secure 188 nominations from the 1,500-strong Election Committee.

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